India is a land of loads of stories, culture and of course long weekends. Thanks to our multi cultural society we have at least 2 long weekends apart from the usual National days, Diwali, Eid and New Year holidays. While it is not always possible to plan in advance a little help and a bit of route tweaking can save you some bucks. If you are like us and tend to plan trips on a whim, then read on how to plan a long weekend in the beautiful city of lakes- Udaipur.
With Independence day right around the corner, I was tempted to revisit the year we decided on an impromptu holiday. Well as most of you are aware, long weekends mean no accommodation, steep airfares and a lack of options. So while as history buffs we wanted to visit Rajasthan, the airfares to both Udaipur and Jaipur were way above the budget of 20K that we had. Maps and Google to the rescue. We decided to fly to Ahmedabad and then drive along NH8 to enter Udaipur. We got some amazing last minute deals on the flights and the destination was locked.
Udaipur, founded in 1559 by Maharana Udai Singh II became the new capital of the Mewar Kingdom in the 16th century. Situated on the banks of Lake Pichola the city also known as “Venice of the east” is truly a sight to behold especial during the rains. Lake Pichola, Fateh Sagar Lake, Udai Sagar and Swaroop Sagar together have earned Udaipur the name of ‘City of lakes’.
On arriving (we had lots of help from Google maps and locals) at our hotel Jaiwana Haveli, we were glad that we had made the right decision. Ours was an impromptu trip to Udaipur for the Independence Day weekend in mid-August and finding accommodation during peak holiday season is always a nightmare. But finding a clean spacious room with a great view made us feel real lucky! We had an excellent 3 night stay and thanks to Harsh and Yash, the brothers who run the family owned property, we managed to see lots and yet had time to relax.
That evening we decided ride the cable car from the base to Machli Magra that housed the local goddess shrine. What we did not expect was the kind of view we got form the hill top. The sun played peek a boo all evening and to view the city during sunset was a sight I would not forget easily.
After the sun had set we ventured in to the City Palace for a light and sound show. The fires had been lit to wade off the cool monsoon breeze and we took our seats in the garden to view a show with crisp commentary projected on to the sandstone walls of the palace. An interesting ode in to the lives of generations of Royals of Udaipur. They usually run a Hindi and English version and may have more during high season. Shows start around 7 in the evening.
Udaipur’s City palace is a city by itself. Home to the Rana of Mewar it’s a huge citadel with additions to the main wing over the last 4 centuries. The family of Sriji Arvind Singh Mewar, custodian of the kingdom, resides within the palace grounds in a quaint palace on the shores of the lake. The City Palace Museum, Udaipur was set up in 1969 by HH Maharana Bhagwat Singh to safeguard and preserve the cultural heritage and the time honoured traditions of the people of Mewar.
As you step in to the palace grounds you are immediately transpoUdaipur-City-Palace-Interiorrted back in time and as you move through the narrow passages leading to huge rooms you truly feel royal. Each room of the palace speaks for itself and is testimony to the brave kings and nobles of Mewar.
After a long walk stretching to almost four hours we took the long awaited boat ride on Lake Pichola. The rains had filled the lake to its brim and with the water lapping softly on sides of the boat we relaxed and enjoyed the different sights ranging from the Taj Lake Palace (famous as Octopussy’s abode) to Bagore Ki Haveli to Jag Mandir Palace. Overlooking both the city palace and Taj Lake Palace, Jag Mandir Island is beautiful and well was decked up owing to a wedding in the evening.
After a sumptuous lunch at a nearby café we took a short hike up to Gangaur Ghat where our driver was ready to take us to our next destination- Jaisamand Lake.
Jaisamand Lake, officially known as Dhebar is Asia’s second largest artificial reservoir spread over 87 square kilometres. Located to the south of Udaipur it was the world’s largest till the Aswan Dam was built in Egypt. The most amazing feature of the lake is the 1200 feet long marble bund built along its shore. Surrounded by the Jaismand Wildlife sanctuary, home to migratory birds and summer palaces of the queens, the lake is haven of solitude. The people from the Bhil community reside in this area and reside on all the 11 islands on the lake. The blue waters of the lake stark against the marble cenotaphs on the shore are the living examples of the grandeur and art prevalent then.
An evening spent in the bylanes of the main market area of Udaipur (Bada Bazaar and Bapu Bazaar) is an experience. From lac bangles to Bandhini saris to wooden artefacts to silver shops it’s a pandemonium at its best! But the icing on the cake was going to Jodhpur Mishthan Bhandar (in Udaipur) and buying hot ghewar (a local sweet prepared around teej time) and being confused as to what to carry back home.
Next on agenda was Eklingji temple (the royal temple of Mewar) situated in the village of Eklingji on the highway towards Nathdwara. On reaching early in the morning we realized the temple would open for mid-morning darshan only at 10. With an hour to kill in a 100 people village , we decided to take help from a very resourceful farmer cum shop keeper at the temple gates. He directed us to the nearby Nagda Sas Bahu temple.
Nagda, originally the capital of the Mewar kingdom till the capital city of Udaipur was established, is actually famous for the unusual Sas- bahu (not exactly MIL– DIL, but a slang for Sahastra Bahu) temple that dates back to the 10th century. Built during reign of Rana Kumbha this beautiful temple lies on the banks of Lake Bagela (actually a lotus pond with old structures popping out of the water). The temple dome and walls are adorned with ornate carvings of Vishnu, Shiv and Brahma and stories from different puranas. The exquisite craftsmanship was simply outstanding. Nagda, also houses a strange and ancient Jain temple with a 9 feet high black statue of Jain Saint Shanti Nath. Although destroyed by the foreign invaders they continue to be exceptional pieces of art.
Moving on post our darshan at Eklingji as directed by the resourceful shop keeper we took a shorter route through 3 villages that would eventually hit the highway that connects Udaipur to Haldi Ghati and from there to Kumbhalgarh. Haldi Ghati needs no introduction, nevertheless the long drive towards the actual site of war was a bit of a disappointment. Still inacessible due to infrastructure constraints, we instead visited the Museum dedicated to Maharana Pratap and his faithful horse Chetak.
Apparently even today it is not so easy to access the actual battlefield (maybe the prime reason for ambush tactic in the 16th century war)and we had to settle for a scaled down model of the area to bring alive the story of the famous Battle of Haldi Ghati between Rana Pratap and the Mughal army led by Man Singh.
The road to Kumbhalgarh is a long, circuitous and tiring drive through beautiful forests and streams. The Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary surrounds the entire perimeter area of the fort. The most amazing fact about the 37 Km long boundary wall, the second longest after the Great Wall of China, is relatively unknown and was not visible till we reached around a 1km to the fort doors. Strategically built Kumbhalgarh never fell to invaders and has always provided protection to all those who seek.
Restored by Sriji Arvind Singh Mewar over the last few years its sheer size dwarfs you. The thing that disappointed me the most was the entry ticket priced at only Rupees 5! To maintain such a beautiful heritage property its essential to charge local and foreign tourists a substantial amount only then would tourists appreciate the fact that the walls have stood testimony to generations of Rana rule, invaders and many a battle fought in Mewar region of Rajasthan.
Some trivia on Kumbhalgarh;
- The only fort that offered asylum to Rana Udai Singh, when his nurse maid saved him from being killed at the hands of a traitor, in turn sacrificing her own son
- Birth place of Maharana Pratap and his formative years were spent here.
- The second longest walled citadel/ stone fortification after the Great Wall of China
- Never fallen to any siege laid… Less known in terms of its famous counterpart Chittorgarh Fort, but very superior in scale and grandeur
Most important it takes more than 2 hours (which was all that we could spend unfortunately) and is a place wrapped in history. By the way I almost forgot, we witnessed an unusual event at least for us. In rural India a lady being harassed is a source of entertainment or apathy as no one came forward to help a lady while she was being harassed by a man. Instead people held up traffic and watched as she retaliated and started hitting him back. Finally a bus driver and conducter intervened to literally break up the couple. Post the mayhem and finally getting away from the scene, we decided on a quick Rajasthani thali lunch at a local eatery. Make sure you eat at this last town as there is no eatery on the last leg of 20 odd kms unless you plan to figure a house inside the fort to feed you!
By the time we meandered back to Udaipur all of us (car included) were tired and ready to hit the sack. But it had rained in Udaipur and the weather was extremely pleasant with a soft breeze blowing over the lake. Twinkling stars and an almost full moon (the moon always looks bigger out there) and dinner at the roof top restaurant of Jaiwana Haveli overlooking the lit palaces all around you invariably was the best place to unwind after a long tiring day…
Undoubtedly Udaipur is a dream destination for a romantic holiday, but steeped in history and art it’s a place that stays with you long after you return to the chaos of daily routine.
Flights: Direct flights from all metros connect the city. Alternatively you can fly in to Ahmedabad and drive down to Udaipur.
Train: Udaipur is on the main train line and has trains connect it to most metros.
Drive: A 12 hour plus drive from New Delhi and Mumbai, not a preferred mode of travel, unless it is part of a road trip to Udaipur.